Some will hate this review comparing / contrasting four digital editions of Yes' 1972 classic Close To The Edge (CTTE): the 2003 remastered CD, a 2006 LP-replica special edition CD, Audio Fidelity's new SACD and HDTracks' 192 kHz /24 bit download.
All sound good with degrees of subtle difference; so subtle that I am inclined to believe all were sourced from the same copy of the master mixdown. This dense and sometimes compressed sounding album could really benefit from a remix from the multitrack masters.
The SACD sounds nice with deeper bass, some warmer edges, and a bit more definition on the chiming acoustic guitars. The HDTracks 192/24 version sounds about the same, maybe better actually. Both CD versions are surprisingly good, albeit with less bass detail.
Track by track:
• Close to the Edge: HDTracks' version sounds fuller in the low end, particularly on the church organ section. The CD sounds pretty good all things considered -- sure, there are some digital edges on vocals and such, but its not terrible.
• And You And I sounds better than the title track on all versions. The CDs sound boxy on the rocking parts, yet the acoustic bits fare pretty well. The SACD delivers brighter acoustic guitars making me wonder if forensic EQ was applied in mastering, especially on The Preacher and The Teacher section. Overall, I liked the HDTracks version of this song best.
• Siberian Khatru sounds murkier and compressed on all versions, especially in comparsion to And You And I.
The Bottom Line:
Audio Fidelity's SACD is OK but I feel it is overpriced given what you get; the CD tray/back cover is an embarrassment that looks like one of those grey market albums with faked Yes logos. Come on guys -- you couldn't get the album art for the CD tray? For $30+, as a Yes fan, that is a major fail in my book. The booklet cover art seems dark and doesn't even attempt to recreate the feel of the original album (lyrics are generic black on grey text instead of the green found on the original).
The 2003 Rhino CD is housed in a nice deluxe tri-fold digi-pack with full color original artwork, slip case and an informative booklet on the making of the album. I expect this and more from any deluxe edition release. The 2006 "Rhino Replicas" edition is just that -- a very well done miniature version of the album cover done on thick stock cardboard. Boasting high production values, they even reproduce the original innersleeve with (admittedly small but legible) lyrics. I don't know what these were selling for originally but I got mine at Amoeba for $10, so for that price I am OK with it.
HDTracks probably sounds the most true and genuinely high fidelity of the batch but they really should work on their visual presentation of this album -- giving the fans only a PDF of just the front cover art is pretty lame, when there is a whole booklet available with an important back story to tell about the music as well as the fantastic Roger Dean gatefold -- an important visual complement to this work.
Dollar for dollar, the 2003 CD is still the best deal -- you get the full album plus bonus tracks, alternate takes and rehearsals. If you have that CD already, then go for the HDTracks high resolution download.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, some people are going to hate this review but I have to say what is in my heart as a life long Yes fan and what my ears are hearing and what my eyes are seeing. This album deserves better treatment.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com